Every Day a Bonus: An Iraqi refugee's mission to educate her children

Aisha believes education is a necessity, not a luxury. She has struggled to keep her children in school in Qamishli, northern Syria, so help from UNHCR is welcome.

Aisha watches as three of her children head off to school in Qamishli, northern Syria.  © UNHCR/F.Al-Khateeb

QAMISHLI, Syria, November 25 (UNHCR) - Life on the run has not stopped Iraqi refugee Aisha from ensuring that her five children get an education, and this learning has given them hope for the future despite the problems they face in Syria.

"Education is not a luxury, it's a necessity for our children," said the mother of five, who fled from the northern Iraq city of Mosul in 2011 to escape mounting sectarian violence.

Her son Mohamed, aged 14 years, says he loves going to school and dreams of becoming an engineer.

But at one stage, Aisha faced a real struggle keeping Mohammed and his siblings in school, before the UN refugee agency provided vital assistance earlier this year. The mother and her children had survived by using their own resources and only approached UNHCR after these ran out.

They are among hundreds of thousands of displaced people, including Iraqi refugees and Syrians, struggling to get access to the basics, including food, health care and education.

Aisha and her family lost almost everything when they fled Iraq's second largest city, Mosul, in March 2011 amid a deteriorating security situation and following the killing of relatives. The city was captured earlier this year by the brutal ISIS group, spurring a fresh exodus to northern Iraq's Kurdistan region and to north-east Syria.

The family sold all their belongings and moved to Qamishli, which is located in Al-Hassakeh province on north-east Syria's border with Turkey. They left behind their friends, their ancestor's home, and a long family history in Mosul.

Aisha was able to place her children in local state schools. Classes were free, but she had to pay for stationery, books, uniforms and other extras. Things have gradually worsened over the years. Aisha was feeling the pinch, so the intervention of UNHCR with financial support has been critical.

"Without it we would not have been able to afford the high costs, everything is more expensive now," said Aisha. The cash grant has enabled her to find a more suitable home to rent and ensure that her children can continue their studies. Their last home leaked from the roof in winter.

Aisha hopes that education will help give her children an edge. They are certainly enjoying it. Mohammed's sister Wasan wants to teach Arabic and was delighted when the school term began in mid-September.

"On our first day at school, we participated in a back to school party, we even sang Iraqi songs, we enjoyed it so much, and we were very happy," she said. But the situation remains very fluid in Qamishli and elsewhere in the region. Aisha knows that every day of study is a bonus.

There are an estimated 29,000 Iraqi refugees in Syria, compared to more than 1 million before the Syria crisis erupted in 2011. There are almost 4,300 registered Iraqi refugees in Al Hassakeh governorate, including 1,250 with specific needs.

By Firas Al-Kahteeb in Qamishli, Syria